Sound Theatre Revisits an All-Too-Familiar Election

Sound Theatre Company’s 53% Of puts the spotlight on some women, politically conservative and liberal alike, who voted in the 2016 election. It runs through June 30 at the Center Theatre. 


In 2016, 53% of White women in this country voted for Donald Trump. Scores of them are about to do so again.

There’s a lot to discuss within that number: intersections of race, misogyny, toxic masculinity, religion, class, and so on. In this moment, Steph Del Rosso’s 2022 play — titled 53% Of — should be a rallying cry for action. Despite Sound Theatre’s best efforts and intentions, however, it feels more like an exasperated sigh. 

The play opens in a well-to-do suburban home in Pennsylvania around Christmas 2016, as a group of wealthy conservative women turned Facebook activists (played by Caitlin Frances, Teal Sherer, Karli Reinbold, and Zandi Carlson) are all smiles and knives as they battle it out to settle who’ll have the honor of introducing the newly elected president when he visits their community. The women are soon confronted with a new group member, PJ (Mandy Nelson), hailing from a less affluent area, cheerfully wielding a vat of green Jell-O salad and clad in a Confederate flag sweatshirt, forcing the more upscale ladies to face the reality undergirding their politics. While the actors make the most out of the scene’s comedic bits, none of the jokes really land. 

Act II has those same actors portraying the women’s husbands, as they watch the inauguration and generally contemplate which other women than their wives they’re interested in sleeping with. Kudos to the actors for giving it their boorish all in this section, but it’s by far the play’s weakest act — you could cut it completely and the show wouldn’t miss a beat. Act III introduces a group of performatively well-meaning liberal Brooklynites whose activism never quite makes it out the door of their apartments — there’s always a date, or a wedding shower, getting in the way. 

Act IV is the most interesting, as Act III’s Dana (Teal Sherer), who is White, takes her college friend KJ (Shermona Mitchell), who is Black, out to dinner. (Mitchell, Co-Artistic Director of Sound Theatre, also co-directed the show with founding Co-Artistic Director Teresa Thuman.) Their night out is nominally to catch up, but in reality it’s a (conscious? unconscious?) bid by Dana to try and capitalize on her friendship with KJ to score points with her activist friends.

There’s something real underneath this scene, and both actors seem to relish the chance to dig into it. Sherer brings some nicely realized layers to the character, highlighting both her good intentions as well as her total obliviousness to the hurt she’s causing her friend. Mitchell’s KJ is an absolute breath of fresh air as soon as she arrives onstage; moments into Mitchell’s performance, with every emotion written on their face, I was fully invested in their character. Her final moments, making a plea to just be seen, were wrenching, all the more so by making me wonder why the rest of the piece was so lacking in the final act’s raw immediacy. 

There are some nice projected set pieces throughout the play, and some well-produced interstitial visuals from the suffragette movement, as well as the 2017 Women’s March in D.C., to cover scene transitions (credit to Jared Norman). One of the more effectively deployed sequences is a funny, if slightly over-the-top, collection of manly movie “victory” moments for the boys in Act II, including clips from Braveheart, 300, and even a smattering of the battling Kens from Greta Gerwig’s Barbie movie. The projections pull double duty, not only by keeping the action moving in transitional moments, but by helping to add a greater sense of context, and at certain points irony, to the piece. 

53% Of takes aim at both conservative and liberal women in the wake of the 2016 election. It’d be a more interesting show if it hit either target. Thick with broad stereotypes but thin on substance, the play feels like it’s talking about a lot of things without saying too much about any of them, resulting in a show that feels bloated even with Sound’s production and swift runtime. Only the show’s fourth and final act offers a glimpse of a deeper story. 

53% Of runs through 6/30 at the Center Theatre (Seattle Center Armory, lower level). Tickets are $6-$79 (sliding scale available to all) hereAccessibility notes: restrooms are gendered and multi-stall. Theatre and common areas are wheelchair accessible. Spanish-captioned performance on Friday night; captioned performance (in English) at Saturday matinee.

Run time: 1 hour 45 minutes, no intermission.

Jill Farrington Sweeney is a Texas ex-pat getting to know the Seattle-area arts scene, and is perpetually on the hunt for good Mexican food. Her writing has appeared on TheaterJones, Onstage NTX, and NWTheatre.